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Mississippi:

Make Sure Your Planting Seed are Good

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(February 8, 2010) - Archaeologists tell us that the earliest humans did not plant seed and harvest crops.  Instead, they gathered the increase from native plants.  Agriculture started when they discovered that seed emerged to produce new plants.  They began planting “crops” instead of wandering about.  Some plants were found to be more productive than others, and some were preferred as food crops.  Over time, these were domesticated and selected for yield, adaptability, quality, and other characteristics.  If we could travel back a few centuries in H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, we would scarcely recognize earlier forms of crops like soybeans, cotton, corn, rice, and others.  Selection and hybridization have produced the important food crop plants that sustain our modern world.  This entire system is dependent upon the production, care, and distribution of seed that is planted by farmers every year. 

Many things have changed through the centuries; but man has not been successful in avoiding the effects of weather on the production of crops, and consequently the quality of seeds varies greatly with weather.  Some years favor the development and maturation of excellent quality seed that are capable of producing uniform stands of healthy plant.  In other years, weather conditions may lead to the production of poor quality seed.  We have developed methods for avoiding some environmental effects; but in general seed quality varies almost directly with conditions during the period of seed maturation.

Plants vary in their ability to produce good seed under poor weather conditions.  Monocots (plants that have only one leaf compressed within the seed) like corn, sorghum, wheat, and other grass crops usually produce good seed since their seeds contain very small amounts of oil.  Many dicots (plants with two leaves compressed within the seed) store large amounts of oil in their seed.  This oil is subject to deterioration into organic acids as the result of unfavorable conditions.  These acids then produce rapid seed deterioration.  Consequently, seed with high oil content (like soybeans, cotton, peanuts) are generally most susceptible to the production of poor quality seed during unfavorable weather. 

Finally, we arrive at the point, which is that crops like soybean and peanut are the most difficult when it comes to producing good seed.  Quality must be good at maturity; and great care must be exercised during harvest, handling, processing, and storage of these seeds.  Both germination and vigor tests should be considered before planting; and only those with good vigor should be planted when field conditions are less than ideal.   Last years’ field conditions were difficult in many seed production areas; so growers should take special precautions to ensure that planting seed are good before planting. 

Common sense things like physical appearance of the seed, including variable color, split seedcoats, and other abnormal characteristics can suggest problems.  Laboratory tests for germination and vigor on samples taken after arrival at the dealer or the farm can help avoid problems.  When time is limited, the tetrazoleum or “TZ” test can be done in less than two days.  This test, which was thoroughly studied at Mississippi State for many years, is very good when done by a trained analyst.  Most laboratories can perform the TZ test.  Call us if you need this or other tests done on your samples.    

The first thing seed lose is their vigor.  Seed can have 90 percent germination and 40 percent or less on a vigor test like TZ.  They can also have 90 percent germination and 70 percent TZ.  When you plant them there will be no doubt which is the best because you may have to replant fields where you used the low vigor seed.  I am well aware that this is not a perfect world; and that many things happen that are beyond our control.  Ensuring that the seed we plant are good is one of the variables we can do something about.  Maybe the Lord will help us with some of the others; but let’s take care of this one ourselves.   Thanks for your time.